Watch: Mike Pompeo Addresses Group Supportive of 'Conversion Therapy'

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday October 21, 2020

Mike Pompeo
Mike Pompeo  (Source:Associated Press)

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave a speech to a group that promotes so-called "conversion therapy," leaving his own staffers "appalled," according to a report from The Miami Herald.

The Herald posted video of Pompeo's Oct. 3 address to the Florida Family Policy Council. His comments were delivered virtually, reported the The Orlando Sentinel, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That was also the weekend President Trump disclosed that he had contracted the coronavirus.

"Pompeo had originally planned to be at the event in person, and even offered a 'personal visit' with himself for those who sponsored a table of $10,000," the Sentinel reported. "Additionally, guests could have access to a VIP reception for ticket prices ranging between $3,000 and $5,000."

Staffers registered their objections in advance of Pompeo's address, when his "advance team" noted "overtly anti-gay flyers" at the Orlando, Florida venue for an event with the Florida Family Policy Council. Staffers also objected to the group's promotion of "conversion therapy" at its website, where the group claimed it could give LGBTQ people "help leaving the gay lifestyle," the Herald reported.

"The State Department frequently condemns conversion therapy programs abroad in its human rights reports as among 'acts of violence, discrimination, and other abuses based on sexual orientation and gender identity,' " the Miami Herald noted.

LGBTQ equality advocates were also appalled. Equality Kansas Executive Director Tim Witt told the media he was "stunned that our secretary of state would be spending his time going to local organizations whose actions drive kids to suicide, to drop out of school, to otherwise dangerous behaviors because the adults around them are trying to force them to change their sexual orientation or gender identity, which is not something that can be done."

The president of the Florida Family Policy Council, John Stemberger, denied there were any flyers about "conversion therapy" at the venue, and said that his organization never discussed the subject with the State Department.

"The State Department never asked about conversion therapy," Stemberger told the Herald, adding that "as an organization" the group does not offer "any therapy or counseling at all."

But the website for the Florida Family Policy Council "includes links to multiple religious-based organizations that offer help 'Leaving Gay Lifestyle' and a YouTube video titled 'If Conversion Therapy Is Bad, Why Is Sex Reassignment Good?' " the Herald noted.

Text at the group's website also slams bans on "conversion therapy" as "unconstitutional limits on freedom of speech because they do not consider the patient's (or minor patient's parents) right to pursue avenues of therapy consistent with their beliefs and choices."

To date, twenty states ban the infliction of "conversion therapy" on minors. Pompeo's home state of Kansas recently considered a ban and are poised to revisit the issue. Reputable mental health professionals note that the practice is ineffectual and can be dangerous for vulnerable people. Survivors of the practice liken it to torture, and in recent years even some former high-profile proponents of "conversion therapy" have denounced the practice and apologized for having promoted it.

Pompeo focused on abortion in his comments to the group, saying that the Trump administration had brought back a rule that denies U.S. funding to "any foreign entity or non-governmental organization that "perform or actively promoted abortion or family planning," calling abortion and family planning "unacceptable". Pompeo added, "We're using every element of federal law to prohibit the use of State Department funds to lobby on behalf of abortion."

The Orlando Sentinel noted that "The State Department's inspector general is looking into whether Pompeo used taxpayer dollars and official personnel for personal errands," while the House Foreign Affairs Committee is looking into whether Pompeo "used State Department resources to deliver domestic political speeches ahead of the Nov. 3 presidential election."

Watch the video of Pompeo's remarks below.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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